WASHINGTON— More than 100 groups sent three letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today outlining urgent actions needed to protect the nation's wildlife and their habitats from dangerous pesticides.
Conservation, environmental justice, agriculture and religious groups representing tens of millions of people detailed opportunities for ramping up protections in three letters that call for the Service to:
— Complete scientific reviews scrapped by the Trump administration assessing the harms that chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon do to protected species.
"No nation uses more pesticides more recklessly than the U.S., with some of the worst abuses in our most important wildlife habitats," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "To stop the heartbreak of animals and plants going extinct, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to give endangered species a respite from toxic chemicals. We're offering common-sense measures that would go a long way toward halting extinction trends."
More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used across the United States each year, causing lethal and sublethal harm to imperiled wildlife and plants that rely on fields, forests and waterways where pesticides are often used or end up.
Even in areas that the Service has legally designated as critical habitat essential for helping species dodge extinction and recover, pesticides are frequently used. The groups are urging the Service to use its authority to prohibit pesticide use in designated critical habitat, at least until the Environmental Protection Agency completes long-overdue consultation to assess whether the poisons can be safely used in these special areas.
More than 350,000 pounds of agricultural pesticides were sprayed on more than 363,000 acres of crops on America's national wildlife refuges in 2018, a 34% increase over the acreage sprayed in 2016, according to an analysis of refuge pesticide use data. Pesticides used on refuges include glyphosate, 2,4-D, dicamba and paraquat, all of which have been shown to harm wildlife.
In 2014 the Obama administration moved to phase out use of pesticide-intensive genetically engineered crops and bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in agriculture on all national wildlife refuges following a successful campaign by the Center for Food Safety and others. The Trump administration reversed that decision in 2018.
"Hey Biden Administration: 'Come on, man.' Reversing Trump's opening of wildlife refuges to neonicotinoid pesticides and crops genetically engineered with resistance to pesticides is a no-brainer," said George Kimbrell, legal director for Center for Food Safety. "But you can do better still by halting all pesticide use on refuges. We deserve a better future, one in which we produce food that doesn't harm our amazing biodiversity."
In 2017 career scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the ongoing existence of 1,399 endangered plants and animals is jeopardized by chlorpyrifos; 1,284 endangered species are jeopardized by malathion; and 175 are jeopardized by diazinon.
These reviews were put on an indefinite hold by then acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, and the Biden administration has not indicated if or when it will release new analyses for chlorpyrifos or diazinon.
A Fish and Wildlife Service draft analysis released last week found that malathion jeopardizes the continued existence of 78 endangered plants and animals. The analysis is one of most extreme findings of harm ever published by the Service. Yet it represents a dramatic departure from the science-based findings of the Obama administration.
"Some of the most endangered U.S. birds, including Florida grasshopper sparrows, Mississippi sandhill cranes and Attwater's greater prairie chickens, are on a path to extinction because of harmful pesticides," said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. "Strong action is urgently needed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate this threat. A good start would be releasing the documents revealing how harmful these chemicals are and acting to rein in those harms."